The hill country of Judea
is the just about the last place
you would expect to find
a prophecy fulfilled
or a miracle revealed.
The region doesn't celebrate ancient libraries
or famous philosophical schools.
It never produced great wealth
or claimed powerful armies.
It is, in fact,
a rather forgotten place--
a land of high limestone plateaus
cut by deep, weathered gullies.
It is a mosaic of bare hilltops
rising above rugged valleys.
The land is rough,
a surprising place to find blessings.
Yet, as Joan Sauro says,
no matter where we walk,
we will find that God has been there before us.
God’s name is written everywhere,
on every layer.
Go to the place called “Barren.”
Stand in the place called “Empty”
and you will find God. *
Elizabeth knew all about
the place called “Barren”;
the location known as "Empty."
For most of her life,
her family and friends saw her as forsaken—
a woman abandoned by God--
the object of shame
or the target of barely concealed scorn.
She was that most pitied of women--
A field without a harvest.
But one day,
in that land of high plateaus
and quiet valleys,
the one who had been barren became fruitful
and her emptiness overflowed.
in the very last place you might expect to encounter God,
two pregnant women—
Mary, at the beginning of her life,
Elizabeth, moving towards its end,
and greeted each other in wonder and delight.
In that extraordinary moment,
unprecedented in scripture,
two women proclaimed the goodness of God
while two surprising babies
danced to the heartbeat of their mothers’ joy.
Elizabeth, once empty,
now carried the herald of the Lord—
the last of the Old Testament prophets.
With the birth of her son, John,
the cycle of prophets which began with Elijah,
would become complete.
Elizabeth knew the history of her people.
She knew that the golden ark of her ancestors
was carried before the Israelites
as they wandered in the desert.
The ark contained the Law of Moses--
the very Word of God in stone.
It held the urn of manna and the rod of Aaron—
the bread from heaven
that sustained God's people in the wilderness
and a sign of priesthood.
Elizabeth realized that a new ark
now stood before her.
Not an ark of wood or gold,
but one knit into the very bones and blood of a girl
who carried the Bread of Life
and the true high priest within her.
When she embraced Mary
Elizabeth knew that everything had changed—
Everything her people longed for,
was now alive among them.
And in that new life,
In a world where women could not legally testify,
Mary and Elizabeth became God’s witnesses,
testifying to the truth.
Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?
Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord said to her
will be accomplished!"
In a world where women had no voice,
Mary became God’s “Yes!”
Her “Yes” echoes throughout time and beyond time,
bearing God’s bread into a hungry world.
The voices of Mary and Elizabeth
continue to resound; their witness endures.
They stand beside us whenever the hungry are filled
and the lowly are lifted up;
whenever promises are kept
and mercy overflows.
They challenge us to be faithful.
To be bold.
To be brave.
To accept risk.
and believe in God’s mercy.
Their witness calls us
to be open to life
and to embrace a future
that the world might deny.
They remind us to trust in God,
even as the world proclaims,
“You are too old.”
“You are too young.”
“You are barren.”
“You are a scandal.”
“You are female.” “Your voice doesn't count."
In our world,
where the bodies of women and children
are too often abused and discarded,
Mary and Elizabeth remind us that our bodies--
That we are wholly loved,
The remind us that God’s Word
comes as pure gift.
It cannot be bought
or awarded as a prize.
It simply comes.
And as shocking as finding God,
being born as a peasant child.
Mary and Elizabeth testify
that no matter where we walk,
God has been there before us.
God’s name is written everywhere,
on every layer,
in every remote gully and eroded hillside.
They stood in the place called “Barren;”
in the land called, “Empty”
they encountered God.
They remind us that God’s glory still shines
on people and places
that the world might ignore
and that sometimes,
God surprises us.
© Dr. Susan Fleming McGurgan
*Joan Sauro, Whole Earth Meditation as quoted from a sermon by Leah Grace Goodwin, Dec 15, 2002.